AIDS in Prison Update


Another month, another study. In March, researchers at UC-Berkeley reported that the increase of HIV/AIDS among African-Americans correlated strongly with the increase in incarceration rates among black males. This month a new study just published by the Centers for Disease Control finds, according to the Washington Post, that "about 90 percent of HIV-positive men in Georgia's prison system—the nation's fifth largest—were infected before they arrived."

Based on the first study, I wrote a passionate column about the need for pre- and post-incarceration HIV testing and arguing that officials should provide condoms for protection of prisoners. The good news is that the CDC study suggests that the HIV transmission problem in prison is not as great as I and others feared. Even though the urgency seems less, I still think that it is a good policy to test all inmates and to provide them with condoms. (Aside: One interesting insight from the new study is how common sex between staff and prisoners is.)

So if exposure to HIV in prison is a lesser problem than the Berkeley study suggested, what can account for the higher rates of infection among African-Americans in prison? Other CDC data on how various ethnic groups acquire HIV infections points to another possible correlation. It turns out that the rate of injection drug use in percentage terms is almost three times higher among HIV-positive black Americans than among HIV-positive whites.

Hypothesis: Perhaps the higher HIV infection rate among black prisoners correlates with higher incarceration rates resulting from the differential impact of the drug war on the African-American community.